These Prototype Planes Push the Boundaries of What’s Possible

Here’s What You Need to Remember: Sometimes dangerous, and always insightful, the X-series of planes continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in the air—and now in space.

The X-series of planes are a series of non-production prototype planes that the U.S. Air Force uses to gain insights into flight and push the boundaries of what is possible. Though some of the most well-known and significant X-planes achieved greatness in the 1940s and 1950s, X-planes are still being developed today. Meet some of the greatest X-planes ever built.

The First of an Era: The X-1

In the frenzy of aeronautic advancements after the Second World War, perhaps no airframe contributed more to the understanding of flight more than the Bell X-1, the first of the experimental American X-series.

The X-1 was used to better understand flight characteristics in the transonic range, from Mach 0.8 to Mach 1. Airframes of the era suffered from undesirable flight characteristics in the transonic speed range and were generally unstable and a danger to fly.

The X-1 looks like a bullet—and that’s no accident. The airframe was modeled on a .50 caliber bullet, a supersonic projectile that was stable at Mach 1 and more. The X-1 didn’t have jet engines but got up to speed via rocket engines. It was also dropped from a modified B-50 bomber’s bomb bay so as to conserve as much of the X-1’s fuel as possible for Mach 1+ speeds.

In 1947, the most well-known test pilot in history, Chuck Yeager, became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound, flying at Mach 1.06 and inching over the sound barrier.

Bell X-2 Starburster

Bell’s next contribution to the X-series broke another barrier—Mach 3. Just as the X-1 increased the depth of knowledge of the transonic range, the X-2 gathered invaluable data on the supersonic range—but was deadly to fly.

Like it’s predecessor, the X-2 was also powered by rocket engines and was dropped out of a modified B-50 bomber’s bay doors, but unlike the X-1, had much more aerodynamically efficient swept wings rather than the X-1’s straight wings. The record-breaking test pilot, Captain Miburn “Mel” Apt would blow past Mach 3 and achieve Mach 3.2 speeds, though the flight cost him his life.

Perhaps due to an instrumentation error, Capitan Apt banked hard while at Mach 3+ speed and lost control of his X-2. Although he was able to eject from the plane via the nose-mounted escape pod, he did not jump out of the pod after separation, possibly knocked unconscious by the massive G forces he experienced. The X-2 program would ultimately cost three test pilots their lives.


Fast forward a bit in time, and the X-series program would investigate the tilt-rotor designs.

For years, attempts at vertical take-off aircraft had failed badly. Designs generally followed that of conventional airplanes that could point their nose skyward and hover like a helicopter. Though these oddball designs were capable of taking off vertically, they were extremely difficult to handle and only the best and most experienced pilots could fly them. It was hoped that the X-18 could remedy this problem by being easier to handle.

The X-18 looked like a large transport plane, though its entire wing could rotate 90 degrees upward to point its propellers sky-high. After flying slowly upwards, the X-18 would gradually rotate its wing to the forward position and fly horizontally.

Though an improvement on the earlier attempts at vertical takeoff planes, the X-18’s wide wing could not be rotated during high wind conditions, as it acted like a large sail and could cause the airframe to tip over. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the X-18 provided valuable insight into tilt rotor designs and contributed to the V-22 Osprey design—now the backbone of the Marine Corps and Navy’s logistics chain.


Sometimes dangerous, and always insightful, the X-series of planes continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in the air—and now in space. These planes continue to impress today. Keep an eye out for more information on the X-series in the future.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer with The National Interest. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technologyfocusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.

This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Ad Meskens, Wikimedia Commons.

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The Navy Is Testing the Boundaries of Automated Defense and Robot Warships

As the Navy fast-tracks a massive new fleet of robot warships armed with missiles, sub-hunting sonar, air defense radar and extensive command-and-control systems, the military service is refining technical requirements and concepts of operations for the new fleet.  

The Navy is trying to accelerate testing, prototyping, development and deployment of a new fleet of unmanned systems. This large undertaking encompasses its small, medium and large surface and undersea drones. These new weapons will perform a wide range of missions. They will operate independently but also work in coordination with one another through advanced algorithms, automation and even artificial-intelligence-enabled functionality. This is the premise of Ghost Fleet Overlord, a multiyear Office of Naval Research-inspired program to bring autonomy to new levels of maritime warfare capability.  

Concurrently, the scope, scale and range of autonomous operations are increasing. Now, it includes semi-autonomous mine-hunting drones armed with explosives, independent navigation and data analysis, self-operating sonar and acoustic communications systems, and early experiments with arming unmanned systems with weapons. Of course, per the Department of Defense’s doctrine, humans will be “in the loop” when it comes to decisions about lethal force. But it’s notable that there have been increasing discussions about the merits of automating defensive, non-lethal weapons such as interceptors. 

“We continue to experiment with autonomy behaviors. Prototyping will allow us to explore what is required for self-defense,” Capt. Pete Small, the program manager of unmanned systems for Naval Sea Systems Command, said while speaking to an audience at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Symposium.  

Autonomous minesweeping or reconnaissance unmanned surface vessels (USV) could, for example, be armed with weapons and sensors to find, track and potentially intercept incoming weapons such as enemy anti-ship missiles or drone boats. Automated sensors could detect threats and operate the use of non-lethal defensive weaponry to massively improve the survivability of manned forces at sea by stopping attacks much earlier in the process.  

Small says that requirements, tactics and concepts of operation are still evolving for many systems. This means some large, unmanned surface vessels such as the Sea Hunter anti-submarine and command-and-control drone ship will not need a human crew at all, whereas the Navy’s now-developing medium and large USV may at times need manning, Small explained.  

“We may at times have a small detachment of personnel on a large USV,” Small said. “They will not be driving the ship or running operations necessarily but performing certain key tasks that are not at the moment automated such as refueling or anchoring.”  

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. 

 Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Biden warns COVID ‘knows no boundaries’ as COVID+ migrants are released at southern border

As concern over the COVID-19 Delta variant rises, President Biden is warning that the virus “knows no boundaries,” even as thousands of migrants pour across the U.S.-Mexico border without a testing or vaccination system in place.

About 50,000 migrants caught at the border have reportedly been released into U.S. communities, and some have tested positive for COVID-19. The city of McAllen, Texas has discovered thousands of positive cases among migrants that U.S. authorities have released to local officials.

“Since mid-February of 2021 there have been over 7,000 confirmed COVID-19 positive immigrants released into the City of McAllen by CBP, including over 1,500 new cases in the past seven days,” read a city document.

Overall, more than 1 million illegal immigrants have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border between October 2020 and June 2021.

“The virus knows no boundaries,” Biden said at the White House this week in discussing his administration’s vaccination efforts. “You can’t build a wall high enough to keep it out. There is no wall high enough or ocean wide enough to keep us safe from a vaccination in other — from the COVID-19 in other countries.

“In fact, just like the original virus that caused COVID-19, the Delta variant came from abroad. As long as the virus continue to rage outside the United States, potentially more dangerous variants could arrive at our shores again.”

The Department of Homeland Security currently lacks a formal policy that requires testing of migrants before they are released to U.S. localities.

To date, the Biden Administration has only vaccinated a “limited number” of migrants whom authorities have stopped at the border before they are released, according to Reuters. The administration might adopt a policy that requires vaccinating migrants apprehended at the border but a formal policy has not been publicly announced.

According to a report published on Wednesday, the Biden Administration is also considering a vaccination requirement for foreign visitors entering the U.S. from other countries.

Just the News reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ask if the U.S. government is going to require proof of vaccination for foreign travelers visiting the U.S.

“International travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers are at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading new COVID-19 variants,” a CDC spokesperson said in response. “CDC recommends delaying international travel until you are fully vaccinated.

“All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 3 days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months before they board a flight to the United States.”

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Boundaries of the West: New Criteria Should Judge U.S. and EU Migration Policies

In the United States and European Union (EU), border policies are currently the focus of attention, albeit for different reasons. Frontex, the EU’s border agency is coming under scrutiny for its alleged role in illegal “pushbacks” or irregular migrants at the Turkish border and elsewhere at the EU’s external frontier. In the United States, the Biden administration is grappling with large numbers of arrivals at the southern border.

The issue of border protection against undocumented migration needs to be considered separately from policies for legal migration that, despite the much larger volumes of incomers they produce compared to illegal border crossings, often go almost unnoticed.

As for measures to prevent undocumented migration across external borders, developments on both sides of the Atlantic over the past decade have revealed a huge gap between rhetoric and policy. In theory, the political Left should be opening the borders to relieve the world’s suffering. The Right should be shutting them to preserve the sense of order at home and soothe the sensitivities of those citizens who are skeptical of diversity. In reality, both the U.S. and EU borders are remaining open to millions of legitimate travellers, new legal residents, and workers. This legal migration is tolerated or welcomed by majorities in the United States and EU, with notable skepticism in some EU countries.

The rhetoric of political leaders in the United States and Europe continues confirming the Left-Right mental divide. In practice, both the Left and the Right are aiming to tightly control access to territory and turn back most of those who do not qualify for asylum, applying a rather narrow interpretation of the Refugee Convention.

Resurgence of Authoritarianism in the West

The political importance of protection against undocumented migration stems from the resurgence of authoritarianism in the West since the middle of the 2010s.

The perception of immigration-induced chaos was real in Europe in 2015–16, when almost two million Syrians and other refugees and migrants entered the EU from Turkey. When Eurobarometer, the EU’s opinion polling agency, asked the bloc’s citizens in Fall 2015, 89 percent stated that “additional measures should be taken to fight the illegal immigration of people from outside the EU.” The contribution of intra-EU migration to the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum is well documented.

This EU’s border management and asylum crisis has cemented the grip on power among the bloc’s own autocrats such as Viktor Orbán in Hungary who managed to tap into the fears that the influx of migrants produced among voters. In the United States, accumulated frustration with illegal immigration and an instrumentalized rejection of diversity were the main factors to put in power the authoritarian President Donald Trump as Eric Kaufmann demonstrated in his book Whiteshift. Cultural insecurity is one of the main factors to determine electoral outcomes across the Western world today.

The New Relationship Between Democracy and Border Protection

In full knowledge that the perception of vulnerable borders feeds domestic authoritarianism, mainstream elites in the United States and EU have taken measures to protect the frontiers. However uncomfortably this may sound to the cosmopolitan ear, the new emphasis on the integrity of the external border should be welcomed. Mainstream politicians in Europe and North America know that the numbers of irregular arrivals matter greatly to their voters.

Thus, apart from admitting unaccompanied children to the U.S. territory, President Joe Biden has not substantially altered Trump’s restrictive border measures. In a gesture of political symbolism, Biden has lifted some of Trump’s measures that prevented legal immigration into the country, such as the infamous “Muslim ban.” What gets lost in the partisan noise is that the Biden administration continues expelling three-quarters of arrivals to the southern border.

The EU, guided by the sense that “there will not be a Europe as we know it, if there are no borders,” as the then President of the European Council Donald Tusk put it in 2017, has introduced a series of restrictive policies. These included the coordinated closure of the land West Balkan route, the 2016 EU-Turkey migrant deal, and other similar agreements with the governments of majority-Muslim countries in the EU’s geographical neighborhood. These measures, along with the strengthening of Frontex, the bloc’s border guard agency, have resulted in the reduction of irregular maritime and land arrivals by 93 percent between 2015 and 2019. As a result, the illiberal populists’ revolution that some had predicted for the 2019 European Parliament elections did not materialize.

The Metrics of Success

When observers accuse the wealthy West of hypocrisy for not taking up their share of responsibility for refugees, they are only partly right. Indeed, the West needs to do more. But allowing chaos at the borders is not the way. The United States, EU and other members of the club of developed nations should increase orderly resettlement of refugees from crisis regions in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Managed resettlement greatly reduces security risks. The selectiveness of the process also enables providing protection to the most deserving—as opposed to the most tenacious who make it to EU or U.S. border.

It follows that we should begin using different metrics for assessing the success of border and asylum policies. Measuring the efficiency of these policies by relieving human suffering just outside our borders seems logical. However, this metric is wrong. Instead, we should concentrate on two alternative criteria. The first is the preservation of democracy at home. The second is the relief of suffering among the most deserving, wherever in the world they find themselves. It goes without saying that the use of unnecessary violence at our borders has no justification. 

The presence of suffering in the southern proximities of the West cannot leave us cold. However, it is our foreign, economic, trade, and investment policies that should address poverty, poor governance, and civil conflict. The focus of immigration policies needs to remain one of admission to territory based on the selective provision of asylum and economic interests.

Vít Novotný is a senior research officer at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, the political foundation of the European People’s Party in Brussels. He focuses on immigration, asylum, and border management.

Image: Reuters.

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What Happened to Boundaries? | Newsbusters

Every sport has its boundaries. Rules for playing the game may occasionally change, but the boundaries remain. In baseball, a ball hit outside the foul line is out of play. In football, a catch made outside the sidelines is ruled incomplete. All games must be played within boundaries. No one would think of erasing them. If they did, how could they ever expect an orderly contest?

Boundaries are rapidly being erased in American culture. It seems everything has been sacrificed to opinion polls, campaign contributions from certain advocacy groups and editorial support from major newspapers.

House passage of a bill disingenuously dubbed the “Equality Act,” which, according to the Human Rights Campaign, “would provide consistent and explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service, targets what few boundaries remain about human behavior. Passage in the Senate is less certain as 60 votes are required, but the fact the bill is a favorite among most Democrats should tell us something about that party and the cultural direction of the country.

Conservatives eschew liberalism in all its forms. Most, citing a deep-rooted connection to their Christian faith. Some of these conservatives believe that granting special rights for what they regard as chosen behavior means there will be no stopping claims from other groups demanding similar federal protections.

Polygamist groups, for example, demand their “rights.” Why not? Who is to say “no” and based on what? Just as liberal judges often make new laws from the bench, we are watering down, or eliminating, cultural laws and mores at warp speed.

What are the consequences to a society that embraces an “anything goes” mentality? Who among us wants to publicly oppose anything for fear of being labeled a bigot? The standard for what is acceptable and what is not is now subjectively determined.

Polygamists groups began campaigning for the legalization of their relationships soon after the Supreme Court narrowly approved same-sex marriage in 2015 (the vote was 5-4). Who will say, “no, this is too far”? On what would such an assertion be based? The Constitution? The Bible? Not likely when both sources of law and faith-based teaching have been diluted to the point of being unrecognizable in much of modern and increasingly secular America. Both are now simply ignored or considered open to individual interpretation.

In his classic book, “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis, writes about moral claims people make on one another. He notes they often say you should or should not do such and such, or you ought to say, or not say certain things. In this, he says, they are appealing to a standard outside of themselves.

Here is how Lewis puts it: “Now what interests me about all of these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behavior which he expects the other man to know about…”

Today’s “other man” may know about such standards, but he is likely afraid to speak of them lest he be ostracized from what used to be called polite society.

So, please, tell me if you can: do any standards exist and if they do, based on what? If you believe they don’t, on what is this belief based?

Denying a standard is in itself a standard, is it not?

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